Xavier Lopez Ancona, 48, is the Mexico City-based founder and CEO of KidZania, which has 11 parks in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Here's an edited chat with him:
What's the KidZania concept?
We don't call them theme parks -- they're indoor miniature cities where children ages 4 to 14 role-play in all the professions in the real world, from bankers to construction workers to actors. We have factories, car-repair businesses, a TV studio, newspaper, police and fire stations.
There are spending activities and work activities. We have our own KidZania currency, and give each child a check for 50 "kidZos," which they cash for kidZo currency. In the city, they go to the supermarket, beauty salon and so on. When they run out of kidZo money, they have to get a job if they want more. And we pay them. We basically teach kids the worth of work. They learn skills -- negotiation, teamwork -- and values, like respect.
How many professions are there? What's the most popular?
We have more than 100 career choices. In the "hospital," we have a dummy made of latex so a child can do a heart or a liver implant or remove an appendix. A lot of our "industries" are where kids can manufacture something and take it home -- a notebook or chocolate bar or a pizza. The fire station is very popular. Being a firefighter involves driving a truck and throwing real water into a 20-foot-high building where the "fire" is smoke.
We change the mix of establishments. In Japan, we have a sushi restaurant. A "factory" may change: It may do cashew nuts in Indonesia -- kids put candy around them -- but the one in Japan does something with noodles. Japan is used to trains, so we have train stations at the Osaka and Tokyo KidZanias where kids can drive the trains.
What kind of admission do you charge?
In Mexico, it's about $18 per child; about $13 for adults with them. In Japan, admission is about $55 per child; $35 for adults.
Are you looking at building a KidZania in the U.S.?
Yes. We'd like to open our first U.S. KidZania at the end of 2014. We're looking at larger markets that are big for tourism.
-- John Bordsen, Charlotte Observer